Thursday, October 31, 2019

Best! Weekend! Ever! (or, "Tales of TerrifiCon 2019, Part Five-and-Final") ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

WARNING! This is an extremely long post. I'm known for being excessively wordy when I write, and less so when I talk. But this time? Pack a lunch. And an overnight bag.

Okay, then, here we go! If you're a comic book fan, you're almost certain to enjoy all the artwork I'll be throwing at you in this post. If you're not a comic book follower, I still think – hope? – there will be enough here to catch your eye and make you stay all the way to my last word.

And once again, I'm going to point out to those of you who are comic book enthusiasts that most of my blog's regular readers are not comic fans, so if you encounter a fact here and there that makes you say “Everybody knows that,” well... it ain't necessarily so on this blog.

As mentioned in Part Four, my time at TerrifiCon 2019 was an early birthday present for Mrs. Lynch's little November baby. And the best part of said present was that a true artistic legend, Jim Steranko, was a guest of the convention... and I got to have dinner with the man!

Those of you who don't follow comic books may be thinking “Oh, how nice, David got to spend some time with one of those people who draws funnybooks.” Well, dining and talking with Steranko as opposed to someone else who just happens to be in the same business is almost like the difference between sitting with your brother-in-law who plays bass for a local rock band, or spending time instead with Elvis Presley. And, truth be told, that's not a bad comparison. In terms of his artistic innovations, his personal charisma, and his influence on the next generation of comic creators, Steranko – people often leave out the “Jim” part of his name, because there's only one Steranko – really is a rock star.

Or a rock god. Small G. Keep it understated.

Granted, Steranko wasn't the only innovative artist in comics during the late 1960s. I hear a couple of voices in the back row asking “What about Neal Adams over at DC?” Adams and Steranko were familiar with each others' work, of course. In fact Neal Adams worked a tribute to Steranko into one of his panels for the “Deadman” feature in Strange Adventures! (In case you can't read the words in the mist, they say “Hey! A Jim Steranko effect!”)

Anyway, I'd learned to read in 1960 or so, and was reading practically all the Marvel titles by early 1964. Now here we were somewhere around the beginning of 1967. At that point in my own comic-reading history, I was already tiring of Marvel's endless continued stories, made almost unbearable by the shitty spotty newsstand distribution of the time, which made me keep missing issues in all these ongoing storylines! And then, a couple of years later they had the nerve to raise the price of their comics from twelve cents to an unheard-of fifteen cents! So all I saw of Steranko's work at first was his inauspicious beginnings in Strange Tales on their “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature. Nice, but not really much different from what I was already used to from Marvel. And for two or three years, until the early 1970s, I bought very few comics compared to the mid-1960s, when I literally read almost anything I could get my hands on.

Then one fateful day – and I'm not overstating it by saying that – I was going through a stack of recent comics at my friend Jeff's house and I saw this:

The comic I held was coverless, but I immediately fell in love with it. The artwork was incredible. I even liked the judicious use of color. But what the hell was it that I was holding? I was too enthralled by the comic to look at the indicia, the information that's (usually) at the bottom of the first page that tells you what you're reading.

I turned the page, and saw a blond man in a trench-coat, which he doffed to reveal the costume of Captain America! As it happened, this was a copy of Captain America #111. (The last issue of that title which I'd owned had been #109, drawn by Jack Kirby. Steranko drew #110, #111, and #113.) I read on. Why wasn't he wearing his damned mask? I wondered. I read further, only to find to my astonishment that Cap's long-dead partner, Bucky, had somehow returned from the dead. (Back in those days, deceased comic characters didn't get resurrected quite as often.) I kept reading, and discovered to my relief that this “Bucky” was actually a character named Rick Jones, a sort of sidekick for Cap that used to hang around with the Hulk before him.

For all intents and purposes, that's the day that I truly discovered Jim Steranko.

Okay, I'll let the pictures take over for a bit. Here are some more shots from Captain America #111:

And by the way, Cap did eventually put his freakin' mask on!

To continue... I started researching Steranko's output, only to find out that he'd been doing some mind-blowing work here and there. He had worked on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. which now had its own title.

He had worked on X-Men.

And while he was doing his work for Marvel, he was art director for an ad agency and he played regularly in a rock'n'roll band! (Rumor has it that the man never sleeps.)

Nor did he slow down after he left Marvel, either. Here, in only an approximate order, are just some of his contributions to pop culture.

He found time to do this Star Trek poster... (I purchased one of these '70s posters sometime during the '80s.)

He developed his own character, Talon... (I bought one of these posters along with the Star Trek poster.)

He returned to Marvel to do one story for one of their romance titles, as well as several covers.

He produced two volumes of The Steranko History of Comics, an incredibly informative project which never saw a third volume.

By the way, I can name every single comic character on that cover!

He provided cover illustrations for about two dozen paperback novels reprinting various issues of the 1930s and 1940s pulp legend, The Shadow.

He adapted the 1981 film Outland, starring Sean Connery.

He found time to do little stories here and there, like this one from Superman #400...

He did the cover for this comic book revival of The Green Hornet...

(And here's the same illustration without all the excess crap that publishers require.)

He even did character designs for Raiders of the Lost Ark!

So, all of you non-comic people – if there are any of you left after all that – have I impressed upon you how important this gentleman is? (And as I ask that, I'm sitting here smiling because I left out so much! He's been a magician and an escape artist, a magazine publisher, and more... and more... and more...!)

Thus endeth one of the longest introductions in history.

On the evening of August 9th, TerrifiCon offered a dinner with the man himself, as it happened, and this exclusive get-together was part of my birthday present from my friend John (as explained in my last chapter).

As also mentioned last time, I skipped the Howard Chaykin panel that evening just so I could rest up for the scheduled four-hour event. I showed up only five or ten minutes before the 8:00 p.m. start, hoping I still had a chance to get a good seat, since I didn't know whether we had assigned seating or not

Surprisingly, I was the first one there. In fact, I was all by myself in our little dining area for several minutes. There were three identical tables, and nothing in the room's layout that indicated where Steranko would sit. That's when I took these photos, the only photos I ended up taking that entire evening!

Finally, the other guests began arriving. "My" table started filling up. In no time at all there were somewhere between two and three dozen people, waiting for the guest of honor, who seemed to be running a bit late. And since the people I sat with all got along so well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that things were just as cordial at the two other tables. At least, I didn't see any punches thrown. But it was no surprise that we all got along so well. We had a lot in common.

Eventually, the word came down. Steranko was running a bit late. Due to a faulty intercom, many of the convention-goers didn't realize that TerrifiCon had closed for the night. We were told he'd join us sometime before nine, if that was okay. Okay? Of course it was okay. None of us were going to leave, certainly.

When The Man arrived, he sat at each table for a generous interval while the rest of us ate our meals and conversed with him. I say "the rest of us" because I'm pretty sure Steranko himself didn't eat. Apparently, he eats as often as he sleeps.

He looks a lot younger than his actual age, and I get the impression that he is now what he's always been: A fascinating, talented, bundle of energy with an eye for the ladies.

After we'd finished our desserts, Jim let us question him about his own life, and not just the comic-related stuff. He talked about working in comics, yes, but also about performing magic and his various escapes, the extreme poverty he suffered growing up, how he was bullied by a ruthless street gang, and so on. And he was more than happy to let us guide the proceedings with our questions.

Jim Steranko is a remarkable storyteller. I'm not going to try to do justice here to any of his longer stories, but I am going to mention the subject I got him to open up about. I asked him to tell us about the time he slapped Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. (I should justify it a bit to say that Kane slapped Steranko first. If you need more information about the sleazier side of Bob Kane, you can read this post of mine.) I'd read about the incident for the first time only recently, although I believe it happened in the 1970s, not very long after Volume One of The Steranko History of Comics came out.

At first he seemed reluctant to discuss it, but as he got into the story, he became more and more animated. Or maybe agitated is a better word. Toward the end of the story, he was right in front of me, jabbing his finger toward my chest for emphasis as he spoke. I'd hate to have him angry with me.

(And now that I've teased you mercilessly about that tale, if you'd like to read about it elsewhere, here's a link!)

Steranko talked on and on -- it was kinda like reading one of my posts -- and Mitch Hallock, the head honcho of TerrifiCon, told me he was getting a bit nervous because our crowd was supposed to be out of the room by midnight... and it was already apparent that that just wasn't gonna happen!

It got later and later (or should I say earlier?) and Jim finally started autographing comics and other items for those assembled. (The ticket for the dinner included the chance for each of us to have two items signed.) He wasn't in any rush to do that, either. It seemed like he spent ten to twenty minutes with every one of us as he signed the things we'd brought.

The first item I handed him was a trade paperback reprinting a series of Airboy stories drawn by artist Tim Truman (who was also at this year's TerrifiCon). Truman did the interior art, but Steranko had done the cover! So I got my book signed by both.

Back in the 1990s, I had purchased a limited edition poster of that Airboy trade paperback cover. It was signed and numbered by Jim Steranko himself. He took time to tell me that he had enjoyed doing that trade paperback cover because he had loved the original Airboy series when he was a boy in the 1940s.

This is the poster image, but this one wasn't autographed like mine.

But my autographed Steranko poster had been damaged during a move. I told Jim that I had horrible luck where Steranko collectibles were concerned, and went on to explain that not only had I ruined the Airboy poster, but that I also owned one of the original 1970s Talon posters shown above, and when I took that from my closet to bring it to TerrifiCon, I discovered that it was cracked and spoiled with age.

The second item I gave him to autograph was the membership kit to the Shadow Secret Society, an organization Steranko had been involved with years earlier. As evidenced by his many Shadow paperback novel covers, he was and is a huge fan of the character.

 This isn't a photo of my kit. This is just a photo I found online which shows you the envelope's contents.

It was close to 1:30 when the evening finally wrapped up. Several of the two dozen or so guests had already left, but those of us who remained assembled for a group photo.

I find it pleasantly surprising that the shortest man in the line somehow seems to tower above the rest of us.

What I don't find surprising is that Steranko is standing right next to the only woman in the line!

Jim Steranko standing next to my new friends, Jenny and Brian Gordon.

The next day, I ended up at Steranko's table, because I had one more comic for him to autograph. He had two assistants, one male, one female. Even the man referred to him as "Steranko," like he was talking about Elvis, or Cher, or Madonna...

While I was in line, I noticed all the things he had on his table for sale. Posters and prints, mainly, but also some books and magazines, including both volumes of The Steranko History of Comics. And the posters included the Star Trek and Talon posters shown above.

Two places ahead of me in line stood a man with not one but two copies of The Incredible Hulk Special #1. Only the cover was drawn by Steranko.

Steranko handled the books very carefully, but in spite of that, when he slid one of the comics toward him, its cover came completely off! Everyone present held their breath, and the comic's owner had a look on his face like he'd just watched a truck run over his dog.

Obviously -- to me, anyway -- the cover that detached so easily must have been attached by the proverbial thread to begin with. All Jim could do was have his assistant refund the money the man had paid for the signature. I have to wonder whether that young man blamed Steranko for the damage. I wouldn't have.

When it was my turn, he remembered me from the previous night. I pointed at the Talon poster and he nodded sadly. He obviously remembered my little horror story, too.

Then I asked him something he'd probably been asked for years, although at this point, forty-plus years after Volume Two, it's more of a running joke. I asked when Volume Three of The Steranko History of Comics would be completed. He smiled and replied "Oh, it's all finished," but before I could even raise an eyebrow, he tapped his temple and said "Up here."

Finally, I handed him Captain America Special Edition #1. This was a two-issue deluxe series from 1984 which reprinted Steranko's three Captain America issues, plus other material.

Captain America Special Edition #1 contained Captain America #111, the issue which had first turned me on to Jim Steranko's breathtaking art. I flipped through the issue before he signed it, showing him how I became enthralled with the original comic, page by page. And yes, I told him the entire detailed story which you read earlier, describing my reactions about the coloring, and Cap fighting Hydra without his mask, and Bucky...

As he signed it, he looked up at me and said "Wow, that's a great story."

Jim Steranko. Jim Steranko said "Wow, that's a great story." To me.

TerrifiCon 2020 is gonna have to bust its metaphorical butt to top this year's convention.

*  *  *  *  *

Those of you who read my blog last year when I posted about TerrifiCon 2019 may recall the huge Thanos figure on display. Well, "he" was there this year, too.

However, after the convention was over, he looked like this at one point.

And the hall looked like this.

Seems kinda sad somehow, dunnit?

See you next August!

And if you read this, please comment? Especially if you came here from Facebook. Thank you.

Thanks for your time, and your perseverance!


  1. "Wow" that's a great story. I enjoyed it from start to finish. It sounds like you had an amazing time. I like that last photo..Kapow, zap...haha. It must have been a total "rush" for the comic lover in you. You are so knowledgeable about this stuff. I can tell you are passionate about every bit of the adventure.

    Nice to see you posting!

    1. Yes, you're right, "passionate" would be an accurate term. I'm glad some of my readers who don't follow comics get caught up in my enthusiasm and enjoy these posts anyway. Thanks for reading, True.

    2. I am not sure when your birthday is so I will wish you a Happy Birthday or a Happy Belated Birthday depending on the day.

    3. Thanks for the birthday wishes, True. My birthday was Saturday... and my granddaughter (not by blood, but still...) gave birth to her third child (and first daughter) that very evening! Quite a nice present for me!

    4. Hi Silver,

      I'd say that was a very special gift.

  2. Wow! This sounds like such a wonderful adventure you had. I always love it when an artist or musician or author takes the time to talk—really talk—to the fans who made them popular. I understand that's not always possible, with time constraints, but it seems like you've found some treasured time with your idols, and they've lived up to the status.

    1. Well, of course, I always try to give time to my fans, and... OH! You meant the people I'm a fan OF? Silly me!

      All kidding aside, yes, I love it when people whose work I've loved treat their fans and followers the way they deserve to be treated, i.e., as those who help these creators make a living doing what they enjoy doing.

  3. I didn't come from Facebook but I'm going to comment anyway hehehe.
    Overnight bag... check!
    Am I a comic book fan.... check!
    Do I like this excessively long post..... check!
    You got to have dinner with Jim Steranko?? That's great. Too bad I never got to have dinner with Elvis either. Oh well....
    An unheard-of fifteen cents.... How rude! What could you actually buy for fifteen cents at the time?
    Yes, you have impressed upon me how important this gentleman is. In fact, I already knew. See, we have a lot in common already.
    No punches thrown at the other table... check!
    A fascinating, talented, bundle of energy with an eye for the ladies. I like him already. I might be biased but he sounds like a real man.
    Wait... He slapped Bob Kane? THAT I didn't know.
    "Steranko talked on and on -- it was kinda like reading one of my posts" I swear I was thinking the exact same thing but since I like you, I won't tell you I was. That would be rude.
    He spent ten to twenty minutes with every one of you as he signed the things you'd brought? That is wonderful. Rare, too.
    Love those group pics.
    The cover came completely off.... check! (Ouch!) Something similar happened to me the other day and I still haven't recovered.

    Have a great weekend,

    1. Hey, Blue, for some reason I was never notified about your comment! Thanks for a very entertaining read.

      As far as the Bob Kane incident, the first volume of Steranko's comic book history had a lot of info about Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman who was unknown to comic fans for years and legally uncredited for his hand in making Batman as we came to know him. Steranko also talked about other artists like Jerry Robinson, who assisted Kane. Bob Kane wanted 101% of the credit, so he was a bit miffed at Jim, who was still a young man at the time. They spoke at a convention, and as Kane stepped away and into an elevator, he slapped Steranko on the side of the head and said "See ya, Jim, baby!" Steranko was justifiably outraged, and found Kane the next day. He returned the slap, hoping Kane would defend himself. He didn't. A great story, but so much greater hearing it from Steranko himself!


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